Omo, omo- this was CUTE! Except for the fact (not uncommon with Kdramas) that sometimes they forgot they were making a CAYUTE family friendly show and veered over into dastardly deeds of murder and kidnapping. Unfortunately, the worst of those plot lines fell in the final two episodes leaving something of a sour taste in the mouth, but I still think it was worth it and am becoming adept at rewriting drama endings in my head so that they satisfy my heart.
You’ll understand why I loved this one when I tell you the story centers on a family of six children, five of whom are adopted, and those five range in age from a baby to a boy about 12ish (I think- I didn’t catch their ages for certain). That alone caught my interest. The kids are featured quite a bit, too, and they are all delightful. The baby is a darling, and they include him in so many scenes, just like you would a real baby in a real family, playing beside his siblings being adorable- you have to watch him, because he’s nearly always being cute.
Except for when he’s crying, which is something I find hard to take in movies- crying babies, especially when they are clearly really crying. Shudder.
But anyway- the basic set up is this:
Dad is a doctor. Mom is either a nurse or some sort of administrative jack of all trades for the clinic the family runs.
Mom and Dad are ridiculously in love (embarrassing their kids, oh, YAY), and they dote on their large brood of children, although Pal Gang, the eldest, is giving them a lot of trouble. She is 25 going on 13. She is cute and affectionate, but horribly irresponsible, only cares about an executive at her work whom she has been chasing for five years, selfish, and she’s racked up a lot of credit card debt. She gets in trouble with her mom a lot for the frivolous way she is living her life. Her younger siblings are far more responsible- especially the second child, a boy, which in Korean culture gives him an extra dose of responsibility and authority for his four younger siblings, and the child actor carries this off well. I totally believed in him as the oldest boy.
For added fun, the children’s names are all colors of the rainbow, in order (with the name of the actor listed first, then the character they play, gender, and translation of color name):
Choi Jung Won as Jin Pal Kang; girl, Red
Park Ji Bin as Jin Joo Hwang, boy, Orange
Kim Yoo Ri as Jin No Rang, girl, Yellow
Joo Ji Won (주지원) as Jin Cho Rok, girl, Green
Chun Bo Geun as Jin Pa Rang, boy, Blue
?? as Jin Nam Bit (baby), boy, Indigo
Orange is responsible, mature for his years, and loaded with common sense. Yellow is pretty, helpful, and not much interested in school. Green is a cutie who is very smart. Little boy Blue has trouble with wetting his pants and sleep-walking. Baby Indigo, or Nam, is everybody’s pet.
There is an old courtesy grandpa, nicknamed Grandpa Junk, who comes to the house regularly. Unbeknownst to the rest of the family except the parents, he is not poor, but has been a sort of sponsor for their father (who was reared in an orphanage) and a friend for most of his life. He is fabulously wealthy and wants to use all his money to build the large free hospital in Korea, and he wants the children’s parents to help run it.
Only he gets in a fight with his son and collapses of something like a stroke the same night that:
The parents discuss his plans and suddenly realize that he is actually the grandfather of Pal Gang, who is the mother’s biological child by a previous short relationship (shortened because the father died in an accident before he could come back for her, and she never knew his parents’ names).
The grandpa’s daughter-in-law who is all evil and scheme-a-licious seethes over Grandpa’s plans, so she has the rainbow children’s parents killed in a deliberate car crash,
and the irresponsible, frivolous Pal Gang who was left with her five younger siblings to babysit instead stole their piggy bank money and skipped out to get a perm, even though baby Nam was sick. Her parents were killed when they were rushing home to tell Pal Gang that Grandpa Junk was really her biological grandfather, but she doesn’t know that. She thinks they died because they were rushing home to care for sick baby Nam because she had irresponsibly left the children alone (they didn’t know Nam was sick because her brother hadn’t tattled, but she won’t find that out for another 15 or so episodes).
Yes, it’s a bit much, but it is a K-drama, after all, and it’s poetically good story telling, too. Pal Gang has borrowed so much money from her friends that one of them says her parents told her to drop their friendship, a creditor is constantly chasing her, and she’s the worst performer at work, kept on only to serve as a horrible warning of what not to do. However, she is a bit delusional about her chances at success and has been saying it only takes one spin of the wheel for all her luck to change (or something like that). She blithely continues to borrow money with smiles and breezy promises that her luck could turn at just any second, that all it will take is one good turn. And in a single night, she is experiencing that those wheel spins she’s been counting on can be devastating.
In the blink of an eye, she is left the head of her family with five minor children to rear and no serious job skills or life skills, either. Furthermore, the scheming relative manages to get them kicked out of their home almost immediately and they are really in a tailspin trying to figure out what to do. They keep getting kicked out of motels because the baby cries, so they stay a couple of nights in a sauna/gymn sort of place that is common to K-dramas.
At the bottom of this desperate pit, she decides to return Nam to the orphanage- only temporarily until they can get back on their feet and have somewhere more permanent to stay. Her siblings are horrified when they realize what she’s doing, and the oldest brother balks firmly and tells her that he will never desert any of his siblings, even if she does, and that it’s fine for her to leave them, since she’s her parents’ child by blood and he knows she doesn’t love them that much, but they aren’t splitting up any more than that. They will ALL go to the orphanage, and he will take care of them there and see what can be done to get them out and together as a family.
This wakes her up a bit, she’s ashamed of herself because she really does love the children just as much as if they were biologically related, but she just tells them no, she will keep them all together because it’s obvious, with this rebellion, that they did not learn proper respect for their oldest sibling yet, and she will have to keep them all in order to make sure they do learn this. It’s a heartwarming scene, but then, I don’t think there is a scene with these kids that didn’t either make me smile or choke up.
Then Pal Gang gives herself a shake and remembers a scheme she had put in motion just before her parents’ death. The company lawyer she’s been crushing on for five years lives in a big house with his brother and their nephew, (who has grown up in the states so he makes some hilarious word substitutions in Korean). They are looking for another housekeeper, which is incredibly difficult because Won Kang Ha, the eldest, is notoriously impossible to please and cranky as all get out. His brother Won Jun Ha is his polar opposite, warm, sweet, friendly, kindly- and yet, the two brothers love each other more than anything else in the world.
Anyway, Pal Gang has been offered the job by Jun Ha, so she takes it and sneaks the children in to hide them until they can come up with a better plan. Her bedroom is a large room in the basement, so there’s plenty of room for the six siblings. They just have to be quiet when the menfolk are home.
Three bachelors, one ditzy girl who can’t actually cook or clean but wants to be their housekeeper, and five kids hiding from the three bachelors. Awesome hijinks prevail for several episodes.
The uncles, of course, are handsome, smart, rich, and all that is desirable in a K-drama. The actors playing the uncles are really too young for the role, but they are pretty to look at, which is also kind of a k-drama trope. The nephew is immature and considered wacky by just about everybody, which is also fun. He also is the first to notice that everything isn’t quite kosher with this new housekeeper, but the Uncles think he’s an insane whiner, which is also true, so they don’t take him seriously, and even punish him a couple of times for his seemingly wilder accusations, thinking he is drunk. The kids take advantage of this, to, dressing up as a ghost to taint his testimony further.
Gradually, of course, the kids get caught. At first, it’s just two of them- Orange gets caught at a local market shoplifting formula for Nam, Joon Ha is a witness, and Pal Gang, seeing her brother in trouble must come to his rescue and admit JH is her little bro, although noble little bro wants her to just ignore him in order to protect herself and the other siblings. The same night, almost the same hour, Kang Ha walks in the door as Sister yellow is rushing a pan of hot rice porridge through the house because Baby Nam is out of food. She drops it and scalds her foot just as the rest of the crew walk in and Pal Gang has to fess up to not one hidden sibling, but two. Deep in the basement, the other two children keep Nam quiet and try to decide what to do. Blue is in favor of coming out to confess, but Green tells him not to be stupid, five is very different from two, so leave things as they are.. But then later the sleep-walker shows up, and the clever Kang Ha notes the pattern of their names- Red, Orange, Yellow…. Blue, (not to mention the pattern of deception), and asks where Green is. They confess to Green, but Nam is still sleeping so he only gets outed a bit later when Jun Ha suddenly puts a few other clues together and realizes there’s a baby, too.
Naturally, it’s great fun to watch the children warm the cold and icy heart of Kang Ha, and it’s a pleasure to watch big sister/Noona/Unni Pal Gang grow up and become responsible- which also goes a long way to chipping the ice off that frozen heart.
It’s also interesting to discover just why Kang Ha is so fed up with the irresponsible Pal Gang, and so insistent- sometimes to the point of seething fury- that helping her isn’t really going to help her (he says this in a hateful way, but there is another plot point that builds on his back story which reveals just why he feels so strongly about this). He has really excellent reasons for being the way he is, and for seeing her lifestyle the way he does.
When the first of the kids are discovered, Kang-Ha gives them one week only to find somewhere else to live. Then, in a moving and hilarious scene, Pal Gang and the crazy nephew kneel to beg for an extension. The nephew promises to give up drugs if they can stay longer. Uncle Kang Ha is shocked, “You did drugs?!” the nephew tells him it’s a given, since he is a musician. So the uncle gives them another month.
Only we learn in the next scene, a private one between the nephew and Pal Gang, that actually, the nephew never does drugs, he just thought that would help to get the extension. Grin.
There’s a lot of other stuff going on in the show- inheritance issues, a crazy second female lead who somehow believes she can force Kang-Ha to love and marry her, or just marry her without love, she simply must and will have him no matter what, some backstory secrets to the two brothers and why they are the way they are, revenge, the kidnapping I mentioned. Not all of the other stuff works, although I do think the history behind the brothers makes a lot of sense and explains quite a bit about why they are the way they are.
Pretty much everything about this adorable family works, as does the budding buddy relationship between the secretly not totally coldhearted Kang-ha and young sleep-walker Pa Rang. They were so sweet together.
Worthwhile, Warm, funny, endearing, and even a few good moral points. The kids also love each other and are really pulling together. They aren’t perfect, and sometimes they bicker, but it’s never hateful or cruel.
In one really precious scene, the baby wakes up in the middle of the night and is crying (this is after he’s been discovered). Pal Gang is not at home, and all the men wake up and surmise that the other kids are probably so tired they are just letting poor Nam cry by himself. Cut to the basement bedroom where the kids usually all sleep like a litter of puppies on the floor- only they aren’t sleeping, ALL of them are up, anxiously hovering around Nam and trying to soothe him while the oldest boy walks him back and forth. The little family is in tight orbit, like a classroom model of molecules, with Nam as the nucleus.
Caveats– There is one scene where Pal Gang’s two closest friends are suggesting ways she should just trick the mean Kang-Ha into a situation where he has to marry her. They are crass and a bit lewd. She turns them down, pointing out he has no sense of compassion that would make him marry her even in those circumstances, and since he is a clever lawyer, she’d probably go to jail instead.
I think half the characters were conceived out of wedlock. I don’t think this is really an issue of concern with the show, but some of you might.
There’s always a lot of drinking in K-dramas, but it seems really excessive here.
Pal Gang briefly becomes a bar-girl- bar-girls do not date or sleep with their customers, but they do drink with them, dress in tawdry fashion, and have to tolerate a certain amount of familiarity from their patrons. It’s socially unacceptable in all respectable circles, and it’s so socially unacceptable that the bar girl might never recover from the stigma, socially speaking. She gets caught almost immediately- by her employers who go to that bar with their boss.
I really liked this episode, and how it showed the characters of each of them. Kang-Ha is not happy, but he is cold and disdainful and when his brother wants the two of them to help her so she doesn’t have to do this, he tells Jun Ha it’s her life and unless they are going to take some more responsibility for her, they need to butt out and let her live with her own choices, however horrible they are. If she hadn’t made the choices she’d made she wouldn’t be in those circumstances, and she shouldn’t have lived her life that way, and they will just make her worse by stepping in.
He’s not completely wrong, for a number of reasons, and he’s also got some serious personal experience with the kind of person Pal Gang will become if she doesn’t straighten herself out, although Jun-Ha doesn’t know this part.
Jun-Ha the compassionate says they should at least scold her and tell her not live like that, but he doesn’t really have any suggestions or interest in doing more than that at this point. When he tries that scolding, Pal Gang tells him she will do whatever she has to in order to survive and bring up her siblings so he should butt out, and she’s not ashamed (although she doesn’t want her siblings to know, hmmm), she can ruin her life if she can just take care of her siblings. She’s not totally wrong, either.
He asks if she knows she’s ruining her life, and she says yes, but she’s putting food on the table and she’s not doing anything illegal. He says there are still things you should never do, and she asks who he is in her life to decide those things, and says all she needs to do is survive. He basically suggests she should be interested in more than survival, and he then asks what about later? Does she think her dongsangs (younger siblings) are going to thank her for raising them by working as a hostess at a bar?
At that point we meet the real hero of this scene, IMO, as Joo Hwang, firstborn son of the family, her sturdy younger brother and the second oldest sibling steps outside just in time to hear Joon Ha’s question.
He stops, aghast, and hears his sister reply that she doesn’t need them to thank her, she just needs to be able to let her family survive.
He is appalled and says:
“I’m not going to thank you, and I don’t want you to live that way!”
Oh, yay, little bruvver. Good for you. I want to hug him, or high five him, or something. He’s so cool.
She’s shocked and dismayed, because for all her blustering about not being ashamed, she never wanted the children to know what she’s doing. Then Joo Hwang declares, “We are going to the orphanage,” turns on his heel, marches inside to tell the other siblings to get up and pack. Big Sister follows him to the basement where they argue it out. Meanwhile, Joon Ha and the nephew eavesdrop outside the open basement door.
Pal Gang asks him why he’s always threatening her with the orphanage, and says she had no choice, she’s got to make some money so they can afford a place to stay when they have to leave this house (at the end of a week). He says he has no interest in staying anwhere she has to pay for by working as a bar girl.
The three younger siblings are shocked (“isn’t that a bad thing?” whispers one of them).
Pal Gang looks like she’s been hit in the gut, but she sucks it up and says she’s not ashamed and it doesn’t matter what anybody says, it’s a job and she has to make money for them, and she’s too stupid to do anything else.
Then he explains to his Noona, through tears (oh, I love this kid, and I love this scene), that it’s not because he is ashamed of her, it’s because he is ashamed of “Us, who drove you to do that.” Then he runs up the stairs and out of the house- and so we see that all three bachelors are now standing there eavesdropping. The nephew follows Joo Hwang out. Joon Ha looks at his older brother and asks Kang Ha, “Why do you even bother listening to them?” the implication being he doesn’t care and won’t do anything anyway.
Meanwhile, nephew catches up with JH and asks if he’s really going to an orphanage, and says that will really upset their sister. JH says it’s better for her to be upset now than to ruin her life. Aww. What hurts him isn’t that hsi sister is a bar-girl, it’s the burden they are imposing on their sister. He is ashamed that they have driven her to this, and are contributing to ruining her life and he can’t live with that burden and he won’t let his siblings be those sorts of people, so they will live in the orphanage until she can come back for them. I lurves him. Did I say that already?
“But,” asks the nephew, “Do you think your sister will really be alright without you guys?” This makes JH think, and he goes back to the basement room, where now even baby Nam is awake. The three middles have obviously been crying. He sits down by his big sister and says he will take the kids to the orphanage with him tomorrow.
It’s really beautiful- she refuses, saying that if she ever makes them ashamed again they can go to the orphanage, but not now, so quit threatening her with the orphanage, you brat. He argues that they have to. They won’t be allowed to stay at an inn even with money because Nam will cry and they’ll be kicked out, so he will go take care of them all at the orphanage and she will come get them later, when she gets back on her feet. He’s crying. The three middle dongsangs are crying. So am I.
She confesses that what she is afraid of is that she won’t go back once she takes that terrible first step, no matter how much of an emergency this seems to be. “You know me,” she says. She’s selfish and mean, and if life is too easy for her once the kids are in the orphanage, she’s afraid she won’t be able to make herself do the right, but hard, thing and go get them back, and that would make her an evil witch, so please stay, she begs. Pa Rang runs to her and hugs her and tells his older brother, “You want to make her an evil witch? That would make you a really mean person. We have to stay.” He’s saying it through sobs, and these kids cry very convincingly. The children apparently all agree that they can’t do that to Eldest Sister, so they will stay together to stop her from becoming an evil person. That answers the nephew’s question, no, she won’t be okay without her siblings. They may be a burden in one sense, but they are the reason she’s growing up and becoming a responsible person, too, and without them, she will revert back to the shameless, irresponsible, selfish girl of her past. She needs them more than they need her. Tears and hugs all around. Sniff, sniff.
The show doesn’t hammer this point home, but there is an interesting contrast- the evil, conniving, parent killing daughter-in-law to Grandpa Junk, we learn later, also was a bar girl because of her family’s poverty. Only her siblings didn’t care what she did as long as she brought home money and put food on the table. So she did become the evil person, and I think it was at least partly because she didn’t have the loving sibling support that Pal Gang has.
Pretty much every scene with the kids in it is gold, and I really enjoy the scathing sarcasm that is Kang Ha’s defense mechanism of choice. Unfortunately, the last two episodes kind of jump the shark in all sorts of ways, which was a disappointment. I would have liked a lot more of the family and almost none of the bad guys, who were really cheesy, unrealistic, and over the top, not to mention a waste of time. Also, a popular feature of K-drama romances is that the girl suddenly shies off of marriage for a year or three in order to ‘pursue her dream’ and said dream is often totally ridiculous (heading to Europe to study in order to be a top notch barrista in one regrettable drama), or at least really an unnecessary gimmick. That happens here, too, a bit.
So… it’s not perfect, but it is very sweet, and I’d love my family to watch it with me. Unfortunately, none of them really share my interest in K-dramas, let alone my obsession- although the HG is watching Full House and King 2 Hearts with me when we can get together, and the Boy will watch an episode of Faith every once in a while. It’s a shame, because this is darling.
I watched this one on Hulu- I think Dramafever also has it.
You might also enjoy:
Dramas I’ve completed, recommend, and reviewed: see here.
Things to know when watching a K-drama
Where to get your fix: Sites where you can find subtitled K-dramas (and dramas from other countries, as well. I’ve watched a handful of J-dramas (Japanese) and TW (Taiwanese) dramas, but I vastly prefer the K-dramas, even though I know more Japanese – I got an A in my Japanese 101 class back in the day, when we actually lived in Japan and once I even knew both hiragana and katakana- but still K-dramas interest me vastly more).